Judgment Seat of Christ
Arlen L. Chitwood
Clothed in White Garments
He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (Revelation 3:5)
The message to the church in Sardis presents a continued, extended view of the “children” of the adulterous woman, Jezebel, from the preceding message to the church in Thyatira. And matters can be viewed in this manner, as Scripture moves from one epistle to the next, for most of the Christians comprising the church in Sardis possessed a name that they lived, though they were actually dead (v. 1; cf. 2:23).
Along with a continued, extended view of the church in this spiritually destitute condition, attention is also called to a “few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments” (v. 4). Thus, there was a remnant within this church, comparable to the remnant of seven thousand who had not bowed their knee to Baal during Elijah and Jezebel’s day in the Old Testament (1 Kings 19:18).
This remnant in the Church in Sardis was comprised of those Christians presently overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil. And these are the ones who will one day be revealed as overcomers, subsequently realizing the overcomer’s promises during the 1,000-year reign of Christ.
Many expositors have sought to associate the church in Sardis with the Reformation period in Church history, which began with events during the sixteenth century. The allusion to this period of time and beyond — if the message to the church in Sardis is to be associated with a particular period in Church history (though not really to the Reformation per se) — would appear to be correct, with the emphasis placed in two realms:
1) That which continued in existence within the mainstream of Christendom from the days represented by the preceding message to the church in Thyatira.
2) That which would ultimately result within a smaller segment of Christendom because of the Reformation, represented by the succeeding message to the church in Philadelphia.
And as previously seen, these two segments of the church in Sardis were represented by those who were dead (v. 1) and by those who had not defiled their garments (v. 4). The following two epistles, the messages to the church in Philadelphia and the church in Laodicea, then project these two segments of Christendom on into the latter days of the dispensation. They will exist side-by-side for a time, with the Church increasingly becoming more and more Laodicean, “until the whole” has been leavened (cf. Matthew 13:33; Luke 18:8).
The Reformation itself was not a recovery of the doctrine surrounding “that blessed hope” but rather a recovery of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. The reformers gave little attention to events surrounding Christ’s return. Although they knew Christ would return at some future date, they turned their attention almost exclusively to evangelizing the unsaved.
Many of the reformers looked upon the Church as an instrument through which God would ultimately effect world conversion, something to be accomplished prior to His Son’s return. And, to these men, Satan’s main thrust to counter this goal was channeled through the Roman Catholic Church, with each succeeding pope holding the dubious honor of being the Antichrist.
The origin of much of the false postmillennial thought, still present to some extent in Christendom today, can be traced to the eschatological views held by many of the reformers. Postmillennial thought in Christendom today though is usually seen in a different form than in the past. Today, it can be seen mainly in an increasingly popular ideology known as theonomy. This is a name given to the false teaching that the Church will be instrumental in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth by and through gradually taking control of the present government under Satan.
However, there is another side to the picture surrounding the course that Christendom began to take at the time of the Reformation. The truth concerning the return of Christ within the framework of premillennial thought, also present within the Church today, is something that likewise grew out of the Reformation.
During the seventeenth century, small numbers of Bible students in Europe (who, themselves, were among those ultimately reached with the true message of the gospel of the grace of God as a result of the Reformation) began turning their attention to the prophetic Scriptures. Their work was furthered by other students in the eighteenth century; but the main impetus awaited the work of students in the nineteenth century, who built upon and brought to fruition the work of their predecessors.
It was during this latter period that the great advances in prophetic study were made, according a proper treatment to the numerous truths surrounding Christ’s return. The recovery of these truths was accompanied by a great resurgence in missionary endeavor, and it is this recovery and resurgence that appears to mark the beginning of that period covered concurrently by the messages to the church in Philadelphia and the church in Laodicea.
There is nothing bad said about the church in Philadelphia, and there is nothing good said about the church in Laodicea. An apex of the outworking of that which had its beginning during the days of Martin Luther can be seen in the message to the church in Philadelphia. And the end of that which began centuries earlier — seen on the one hand when the leaven was placed in the three measures of meal, and on the other hand through that which occurred during the days of Constantine and the ensuing years — can be seen reaching its completion at the end of the dispensation in the message to the church in Laodicea.
Dead . . . Not Defiled
The thought of many of those in the church in Sardis described as living, but being dead, must be looked upon in an opposite sense to the thought of a few in the church having garments that were “not defiled” (Revelation 3:1, 4). In this sense, “dead” would be equated with defiled, and “not defiled” would be equated with living. Christians alone are in view, those capable of producing works pleasing to the Lord (vv. 1, 2; cf. Ephesians 2:10).
“Death” in a spiritual sense is associated with both the unregenerate and the regenerate. The unregenerate are spoken of as being “dead in trespasses and sins” because of unbelief (Ephesians 2:1); and the regenerate can be spoken of in the sense that they are presented in Revelation 3:1 — living, but being dead — because of unfaithfulness (cf. 1 Timothy 5:6; James 5:5), associated with what James calls a dead faith.
(Note that the words “faith” and “believe” are cognate words in the Greek text. The former is a noun and the latter a verb. And either word can be used to refer to the same thing [e.g., Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8].)
James is the great epistle dealing with faith and works in the sense that they are presented in the messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters two and three. Works emanate out of faith; and James 2:14-26 refers to a dead faith that is incapable of producing the type of works necessary to bring faith to its proper goal, the exact condition of those in Sardis whose existing state (“dead”) was associated with works. They possessed works, but these works did not emanate from a living, active faith. Rather, such works emanated from a dead, inactive faith and were the type of works that would be burned at the judgment seat (works described in 1 Corinthians 3:12 by three combustible materials, “wood, hay, straw”).
The distinguishing characteristic between those who were dead and those with undefiled garments in the message to the church in Sardis is, thus, in their “works.” This is really the overriding subject matter in each of the seven messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters two and three. Each message, following descriptive aspects of Christ as Judge in the midst of the churches (in keeping with the description given in chapter one), begins the same way: “I know your works . . . .” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15).
And to properly understand the entire matter, along with the review and manifestation of two types of works at the judgment seat of Christ, one must understand the relationship between faith and works in James chapter two.
James, as all of the New Testament epistles, deals centrally with the future salvation of the soul rather than the salvation that we presently possess, the salvation of the spirit (cf. James 1:12, 21, 22; 5:19, 20). Both are wrought on the basis of works. Our present salvation (salvation of the spirit) has been wrought on the basis of Christ’s past, completed work; and our future salvation (salvation of the soul) will be wrought on the basis of the present works of those who have been justified on the basis of Christ’s past, completed work. The review of works at the judgment seat will be to determine the type of works, with a view to the salvation or loss of the soul.
James 2:14-26 opens with two self-answering questions, and the structure of these questions in the Greek text requires that both be answered in the negative (the Greek negative “me” appears in the latter question [designating a “no” response], and the integrally, inseparable nature of the two questions shows that the first must be answered in the same sense). The first question presents the relationship between faith and works in connection with profit, and the second question presents the relationship between faith and works in connection with salvation.
These two questions could possibly be better understood by translating the verse,
My brethren, if any one says he has faith, but does not have works, he cannot profit, can he? Faith cannot save him, can it? (v. 14)
“Profit” and “salvation” are linked together in such a manner in James 2:14 that one cannot be realized apart from the other. That is, apart from an accrual of “profit,” salvation cannot be realized; or, to state it another way, an accrual of “profit” leads to (is for the purpose of) the realization of salvation (at a future date). And James specifically states that neither can be realized by faith alone. Works must enter in and have their proper place in the matter.
One cannot profit apart from an initial investment, and one is in no position to procure the salvation of which James speaks apart from presently possessing salvation. The Greek word translated “profit” is derived from a root word that means “to increase”; and the thought of an “increase” does not enter into the picture until one has an initial supply, making an “increase,” or “profit,” possible.
“Profit” is always something in addition to that which one already possesses. Initial investments, from which individuals can profit, are possessed only by the Lord’s own servants (Christians). There is no such thing as the word “profit” being used in this sense in connection with the unsaved, for they have no initial investment in this realm.
The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27) provide two of the best Scriptural examples concerning “profit” on an initial investment in relation to the Lord’s servants during the present day and time. As brought out in these parables, the Lord has delivered all His goods to all His servants and has left them with the command, “Do business till I come” (Luke 19:13).
The servants of the Lord are to trade and traffic in the Lord’s business during His time of absence. Those who do so, under the leadership of the Lord, will realize a “profit” (cf. Matthew 25:15-17, 19-23; Luke 19:15-19). And by realizing a profit, or increase, on the initial investment, they will experience the salvation of their souls (cf. Matthew 16:24-27). On the other hand, those who refuse to use the initial investment will not only remain profitless but they will, as a consequence, suffer “loss” (cf. Matthew 25:15, 18, 19, 24-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26). They will experience the loss of their souls (cf. Matthew 16:24-27).
Consequently, that which is involved in James 2:14, as explained in subsequent verses, is simply faithfulness to one’s calling (resulting in works), or unfaithfulness to one’s calling (resulting in no works [or valueless works not associated with faith]). Works of the nature referred to in this verse emanate out of “faith” and bring faith to its proper goal, which is the salvation of one’s soul (James 2:22; 1 Peter 1:9). Apart from such a manifestation of faith, giving rise to works, there can be no profit; nor can the inherently connected salvation follow (the salvation of the soul).
In the message to the church in Sardis in Revelation chapter three, two types of works are in view. The first type has to do with works not emanating from faith, and the second type has to do with works of the opposite kind, those emanating from faith.
The first type of works are those performed by Christians apart from the leadership of the Lord. Faith, associated with the Lord’s leadership, is not involved; and such works are invariably done under the leadership of man for the praise, honor, and glory of man.
The second type of works are those performed by Christians under the leadership of the Lord. Faith, associated with the Lord’s leadership, is the primary factor; and such works always redound to the praise, honor, and glory of the Lord.
Both types of works [as seen in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15] will be very evident at the judgment seat — those that are worthless (comparable to “wood, hay, straw”) and those of intrinsic value (comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones”).
The result of the manifestation of works at the judgment seat will be twofold:
1) The revelation of an accrual of profit, resulting in the salvation of the soul on one hand.
2) The revelation of no profit, resulting in the loss of the soul on the other hand.
Such will be the end of all works viewed in the seven messages to the seven churches.
The “white garments” in which the overcomers in Sardis are to be clothed can only have to do with the wedding garment mentioned in Matthew 22:11, 12 and Revelation 19:8. The overcomers, synonymous with the bride, are to “array [cloth] themselves” rather than “be arrayed [clothed]”; and this fact should be reflected in the translation of both Revelation 3:5 and Revelation 19:8. The verb appears in the middle voice in the Greek text in both instances, showing the subject (the overcomers, forming the bride) participating in the results of the action, necessitating the thought that the overcomers are the ones who, themselves, will accomplish this feat.
The “fine linen, clean and bright [KJV: ‘white’]” is specifically said, in Revelation 19:8, to be the “righteousness [‘righteous acts’] of the saints.” The word translated “righteousness” (KJV) is plural in the Greek text and can only be a reference to “righteous acts [i.e., the ‘righteousnesses of saints’],” which are specifically said to make up the wedding garment.
Such righteous acts are synonymous with works emanating from faithfulness to one’s calling; and unfaithful Christians, accordingly, will not possess works of this nature. Their works, revealed as comparable to “wood, hay, straw” at the judgment seat, will be burned (cf. Isaiah 64:6); and without acceptable works/righteous acts, they will possess no material to make up the “fine linen” comprising the wedding garment. Thus, such Christians will appear naked and ashamed in the presence of their Lord in that day.
The two types of righteousness in Romans 5:17 and Revelation 19:8 correspond to the two types of justification in James 2:24 (one is acquired on the basis of the work of another [Christ], and the other is acquired on the basis of the Christians’ own works).
There is a justification by faith, and there is a justification by works. Only those who have been justified by faith are in a position to be justified by works. That is, a person must first be justified on the basis of the work of Another [i.e., Christ] before he can be justified on the basis of his own works (emanating out of faithfulness to his calling).
Or, to state the matter within another frame of reference, note the Christians’ calling. A person must first be “called” before he can be “called out” of the “called.” He must first be a part of the body (be “in Christ”) before he can be removed from the body (removed to form the bride, comprising the antitype of Eve removed from Adam’s body to form his bride).
Those in Sardis who had not defiled their garments would be allowed to walk with Christ, arrayed in bright [KJV: white] garments. They would not be found among those whose works were lacking, those described by the word “dead.” But even to the Christians with defiled garments the call was to “Remember . . . and hold fast, and repent” (v. 3).
It was not too late for those possessing works that would one day be shown worthless at the judgment seat to become faithful servants of the Lord and produce works of intrinsic value. The overcomer’s promise was extended to all in Sardis; but not all would heed the message, overcome, and realize this promise.
The clear, simple lesson taught by comparing Matthew 22:11, 12; Revelation 3:5; and 19:8 is the absolute necessity of possessing a wedding garment if one would be numbered among those forming the bride of Christ. The wedding garment is associated with overcoming (Revelation 3:5), possessing righteous acts (works emanating out of faithfulness [James 2:14-26; Revelation 19:8]), and gaining admittance to festivities surrounding the marriage of the Lamb (Matthew 22:11, 12; Revelation 19:9). The overcomers alone will possess the wedding garment, and this garment alone will be recognized as the proper attire necessary for admittance to and participation in the marriage festivities.
The Book of Life
The possibility of Christians having their names blotted out of the book of life, in accord with Revelation 3:5, has troubled many individuals. Such individuals view the book of life as a record containing the names of all who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and they know that for a Christian to have his name blotted out of such a book is an absolute impossibility.
One’s eternal salvation is just as secure as the finished work of Christ upon which it rests. And to infer that a Christian could possibly one day lose his eternal salvation would be bringing into question the complete efficacy of this finished work, or of the corresponding work of the Spirit breathing life into the one having no life (on the basis of Christ’s finished work).
The problem emanates from wrongly associating “the Book of Life” with eternal salvation. God has many books; and in these books He keeps records of many different things, records that will one day be opened (cf. Psalm 56:8; 139:16; Zechariah 5:1-3; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 5:1, 2; 13:8; 20:12).
Note, for example, that at the future judgment of the unsaved dead in Revelation 20:11-15 a number of books will be opened, including “the Book of Life” (v. 12). God has a library in heaven, and the Book of life is only one book within this library. A book that seems to be entirely separate and distinct, but often confused with the book of life is the Lamb’s Book of Life in Revelation 13:8 (cf. Revelation 21:27). This book would appear to be the place wherein the names of redeemed individuals have been inscribed rather than the book of life in Revelation 3:5; 20:12.
The Book of Life will be opened at the judgments of both the saved and the unsaved. The entire scene in Revelation 3:5 has to do with issues of the judgment seat of Christ, with the Book of life being the only book from God’s library of books singled out and mentioned by name. The same thing can be found in the judgment of the unsaved dead in Revelation 20:11-15. The Book of Life alone is singled out and mentioned by name.
The purpose and content of the Book of Life are clearly revealed in Revelation 20:12: “. . . the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” The Book of Life is a book, among other books, containing the deeds/works of individuals, both those of the saved and those of the unsaved; and from the emphasis placed upon the Book of Life in connection with both judgments, along with information concerning other books in Scripture, one could conclude that this is probably God’s primary record book containing the deeds/works of every individual.
Other books also record deeds/works, such as those mentioned in Psalm 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. But the primary record book in this realm, one in which a name can be retained or blotted out (depending on the record of that individual contained in the book), appears to be “the Book of Life.”
The blotting of one’s name out of the Book of Life in Revelation 3:5 is strictly for the non-overcomer, with the Messianic Era in view, and has nothing to do with eternal verities. One’s relationship to Christ must be looked upon as a settled, closed matter prior to judgment, a matter that can never enter into any future judgment in any fashion or form.
Different companies of the saved are judged at different times, with their works in view (works recorded in books [Ezekiel 20:34-38; Matthew 25:34-40; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Revelation 20:4-6]); and the unsaved are judged at a subsequent time, with their works in view as well (works also recorded in books [Revelation 20:11-15]).
There is no such thing in Scripture as a judgment of the saved and a judgment of the unsaved occurring together at the same time; nor is there any such thing in Scripture as the issue of one’s eternal salvation or eternal damnation being brought up at any future judgment. Judgment in this respect, for both the saved and the unsaved, occurred in past time; and this past judgment can never be bought up as an issue again.
All future judgments will be based strictly upon the works of those being judged, which renders it impossible for issues surrounding eternal verities to ever enter into these judgments. Relative to the saved, judgment has already occurred, based on their belief and Christ’s finished work; relative to the unsaved, judgment, as well, has already occurred, based on their unbelief and Christ’s finished work:
He that believes on Him is not condemned [‘judged’]: but he that believes not is condemned already [‘has already been judged’], because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
(For additional information on the past judgment of both the saved and the unsaved, as seen in John 3:18, refer to the foreword in this book.)
The Book of Life contains records that have been lived, and the blotting of a Christian’s name out of this book follows his judgment on the basis of that which has been recorded in the book and involves millennial verities alone. Such a Christian will be shown, on the basis of his own works (works burned at the judgment seat), to have been overcome; and he will suffer loss — the loss of his soul/life. Rather than his name being left intact, it will be blotted out of the book of life; and he will be among those denied a position of power and authority with Christ in the kingdom.
And the converse of the preceding will, as well, be true for the faithful Christian shown, in that future day, to have overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. His name will be retained in the Book of Life, and he will be among those occupying positions of power and authority with Christ in the kingdom.
Confession or Denial
Christ, in Revelation 3:5, has extended a twofold promise concerning the name of the properly-clothed overcomer in Sardis (“clothed in a bright [white] garment”) in that coming day:
1) “I will not [Greek: double negative, ‘I most certainly will not’] blot out his name out of the Book of Life.”
2) “I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels.”
This will occur in heaven following issues of the judgment seat, for the person whose name is to be confessed must first be shown to have overcome by the record contained in the book of life (and possibly other books as well).
Christ referred to this future event (along with the negative aspect [denial of a confession of his name, resulting from his name having been blotted out of the Book of Life]) on at least two occasions during His earthly ministry (Matthew 10:32, 33; Luke 12:8, 9). The verses in Matthew refer to confession or denial before “My Father who is in heaven,” and the verses in Luke refer to confession or denial before “the angels of God.” The thought of one’s name having previously been blotted out of the book of life is not seen in these passages from the two gospel accounts, though it is seen when Scripture is compared with Scripture (these two passages compared with the message to the Church in Sardis).
Further, in the book of Matthew, this matter appears in a context referring to the salvation or loss of one’s soul (10:38, 39; cf. Matthew 16:24-27). Thus, this places the entire matter, as in Revelation 3:5, in connection with events surrounding findings and determinations at the judgment seat.
Paul, in his second epistle to Timothy, calls attention to the same thing (2 Timothy 2:10-13); and the contextual setting has to do with a future salvation, the glory of Christ, and the coming reign of Christ:
Therefore I endure [patiently endure] all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal [age-lasting] glory.
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him.
If we suffer [patiently endure (same word in the Greek text as in v. 10)], we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
(2 Timothy 2:10-13)
Note that verse thirteen refers to the fact that Christ cannot accept as faithful an individual who has proven to be unfaithful. To do so would be to deny His own character, whether seen through statements in the written Word or actions of the living Word.
And the converse of that could only be true as well. Christ can only accept as faithful an individual who has proven himself to be faithful. Again, to do otherwise would be to deny His own character, whether seen through statements in the written Word or actions of the living Word.
Christ must remain faithful to do exactly what He has said that He would do concerning confession or denial of Christians before His Father and before His Father’s angels.
Thus, the parallel Scriptures to the confession of one’s name before the Father and before His angels, as revealed in Revelation 3:5, have to do with confessing Christ before men and patiently enduring. And it is within these two realms that the entire matter is set forth.
Confessing Christ before men has nothing to do with a public confession of one’s faith in Christ at the point of salvation, as is often taught; but such a confession is for those who are already saved, and this confession will be a natural outworking in the life of one exercising faithfulness to his calling. Confession or denial of Christians by Christ in heaven, during that coming day, is conditioned upon their overcoming or being overcome and has the coming Messianic Era in view.
And confession or denial of Christ by Christians here upon the earth, during the present time, should be looked upon as having the same end in view. There is a life to be lived, and the unfolding of this life under the leadership of the Lord should bring praise, honor, and glory to the Lord, as the individual looks out ahead toward events at the judgment seat and the reign of Christ that follows.
Patiently enduring, within its context in 2 Timothy 2:12 must be understood in the light of Paul’s patient endurance in verse ten. He patiently endured all things for the sake of other Christians in order that they might obtain the salvation having to do with age-lasting glory, ultimately occupying a position with Christ in the kingdom.
The record of Paul’s life (now recorded in the Book of Life, awaiting the opening of this book at the judgment seat) was one of concern for others, with the coming kingdom of Christ in view. For the sake of other Christians, Paul let nothing stand in his way.
And Christians today are to govern their lives in a comparable manner, with the same end in view, as they too patiently endure all things.
Decisions and determinations concerning receiving rewards or suffering loss will emanate out of issues surrounding the judgment seat, and the realization of these decisions and determinations will be brought to pass in “the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.”
God has offered rewards for faithfulness; and Christians are exhorted to “strive [Greek: agonizomai, from which the English word “agonize” is derived, i.e., ‘exert every possible effort’]” in the present race of the faith, with rewards in view, while moving toward the goal of their calling (cf. Luke 13:24; 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Timothy 6:12). Rewards are offered as compensations in order to encourage Christians as they are being tested and tried while engaged in the Lord’s business during the time of their present pilgrim journey. And compensations of this nature are not to be taken lightly. Disdaining, ignoring, or neglecting proffered rewards is completely out of line with any Scriptural presentation of this subject.
The mother of James and John possessed godly aspirations for her two sons concerning future rewards, James and John themselves possessed the same aspirations, the other disciples in like manner possessed such aspirations, and Christians are exhorted to also possess aspirations of this nature (Matthew 19:27-30; 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Ephesians 1:17, 18; 1 Timothy 6:11, 12; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8; Titus 2:12, 13; 2 Peter 1:10, 11).
A day is coming in the near future when every Christian will be called to an accounting. Lives lived will be reviewed from the records that the righteous Judge will have on hand. When the books containing records of the deeds/works of Christians are opened, there will be a just recompense on the basis of that which is revealed. Every Christian will be judged solely on the basis of the things written in these books, and the entire matter will be carried out in an equitable, just manner. Receiving rewards or suffering loss will, in each instance, be commensurate with revealed works. There will be no exceptions.
The Christians’ deeds/works, emanating from faithfulness or unfaithfulness, will come under scrutiny by and through being subjected to fire. Some works will be revealed as comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones” and endure the fire; other works will be revealed as comparable to “wood, hay, straw” and be consumed by the fire.
Christians with works enduring the fire will receive rewards and positions in the kingdom; Christians with works consumed by the fire will suffer loss and be denied positions in the kingdom.
Such will be the outcome of the judgment of all Christians at the end of this dispensation, preceding the Messianic Era.